The future of news, Part II: Get smart with your delivery

It’s refreshing to read a news story about someone who gets where the focus should be on charging for news. Today, it’s Wall Street Journal’s Digital Media Network President Gordon McLeod, who goes into some details of the company’s plan to start charging for WSJ’s mobile version at the end of October.

Read the story here:

For McLeod, the decision was a ‘no brainer.’ I’m surprised more publisher haven’t slapped their heads and said ‘duh’ in the past five years. You’d think they learned their lessons after slapping their content up on web sites many years ago.

The frustration with the current thinking in the industry is that content pricing needs to be linked. If you want to read our web site for free, buy our paper. This strategy leaves consumers with limited choices, and with consumers becoming more selective with their money, it also leaves them the option of not choosing  you.

However, news companies are still so eager to jump on new technologies and offer them up to consumers at no charge. Why is that? Most possibly, news exectives still have the myopic view that their core product is a newspaper, radio station ot TV outlet. Basically, that’s would be the same as the milk industry saying the core product is the 1-gallon jug, and giving milk away in 1/2-pint cartons.

At some point, the news industry needs to slap its collective head and say “Wait. Our core business is NEWS, not paper!”

News content – credible and verified  (which we call great journalism) – is gold. Readership studies have shown that. For centuries this has been delivered to consumers in the form of a rolled-up paper, or as an audio or video message that is dispensed through a device like a radio or television (usually at no cost to the consumer, except for the hardware).

In the new millenium, those devices have been replaced with smaller, more personal technologies. Mass audiences are being replaced by niche microcommunities. As we have seen in the cell phone industry, people are willing to pay for services (incoming and outgoing phone calls) that were at no or little cost in previous technologies (land-line phones).

As I’ve espoused in previous postings. if you give your individual readers what they specifically want, in a timeframe they demand, and in a format that is most convenient to them, they will be willing to pay a premium price.

The money’s in the delivery of content, not the content itself.

Instead of forcing paywalls on Web sites or making customers pay for things they do not want, customize your delivery methods and charge for that. There is certainly nothing wrong with charging for a mobile product, or a Kindle product, or even something as small as e-mail blasts. Scott Anderson point out in the book “Free” that  consumers are willing to spend for products and services they do not have the time or expertise to handle themselves.

Or as McLeod says, it’s ‘smart pricing.’

It’s time the entire industry got smart.

The future of Chicago media: It’s audience, not numbers

One argument in the potential death of newspapers that never ceases to make me chuckle is  “as goes newspapers, so goes journalism.”  This stuck me again during a recent viewing a WTTW’s “Chicago Week in Review”  dedicated to the future of media in Chicago.

Watch it here:,8,73&vid=090809a

It was especially disappointing to see Marcus Gilmer, editor-in-chief of The Chicagoist unable to defend himself from the bombs thrown from the old media types, especially Daily Herald reporter Ted Cox. Cox tried to play the numbers game with Gilmer, questioning whether a 40,000-hit daily blog had the same popularity of  more than 100,000-circulation Daily Herald or the even larger circulation Chicago Tribune.

If Cox wants numbers, then don’t pick a spot in time,  but trend them over the past 10 years. I’m sure we’d see a down line for the newspapers, and an up line for the Chicagoist. If given the current trend, I would expect they’d meet somewhere in the near future.

But the argument is not about numbers. What was missed in the conversation is audience. Journalists tend to forget about audience (with the exception of the Tribune’s Steve Johnson, who did say he looks at reader comments because they can provide information he missed). While the blogosphere is still a wild west and credibility is suspect because anyone can post what they want,  blogs have led to the deconstruction of the mass audience – the very audience that used newspapers and traditional media.

Blogs – and the emerging social media as well – have developed microcommunities that still crave news, but prefer to sift the wheat from the chaff before digesting it. WBEZ’s Wally Podrazik came closest to the point by noting readers will be relying more on aggregators to “sift” that news for them.

But as the mass audience deconstructs, so too must the mass-appeal news product. There is still room for a Chicago Tribune or Daily Herald, but to survive it cannot be the only product offered to those who crave news. The Tribune Company is recognizing that and have begun building niche products to appeal to the microcommunities, everything from RedEye (targeted to young, urban professionals), to TheMash (focusing on high school teenagers, which is a great market to cultivate future readers of other products), to Chicago Now (a Huffington Post-type of blog aggregator, though limited in its initial scope). With the exception of RedEye, it’s too early to tell whether any of these products will become successful or profitable. But it’s a start in the right direction.

In terms of numbers, I don’t see any one of these products gaining the type of reader numbers the Tribune had in its heyday. But, if you build a number of smaller, targeted products that are a success, their cumulative numbers could eventually equal or surpass the circulation figures once enjoyed by the flagship.

The future of media in Chicago? It’s giving the readers what they want, when they want, and on the platform they want. This won’t change journalism…there is still a great need for great storytelling, uncovering injustice and exposing wrongs for the public good.

What will change is who controls what news readers get. And as technology expands readers’ ability to select what they want to read, the more traditional media must meet that demand.

It’s no longer about the masses.